Supermarket giant Tesco has been accused of sidelining Scotch labelled beef and lamb in favour of British and Irish meats in its stores across Scotland.

Concerns were raised that the retailer is neglecting its commitment to local producers and its climate responsibilities, by filling its shelves with imported Irish beef.

Throughout 2020, Tesco consistently stocked 95% Scotch Beef PGI and 54% Lamb PGI across Scotland. However, recent retail audits by Quality Meat Scotland identified a dramatic reduction in Scotch PGI products, down to 16% Scottish beef and 17% Scottish lamb.

In The Scottish Farmer last week, a transcript shared between QMS and Tesco revealed the retailer claimed that the drop in product was due to a shortage in labour at its retail packing point, prompting its decision to minimise packing changes and label all Scotch product as British.

This week, The SF spoke with QMS chief executive, Alan Clarke – who had been out conducting shelf watches of his own – and who shared his frustration over the situation for Scotland's hard won brand loyalty.

“I feel exceptionally disappointed that a supermarket that has been so loyal to the Scotch brands would not have the very products that their customers evidently want, available at Christmas. It just doesn’t feel right that a retailer would replace home grown produce with Irish and British branded products at the busiest time of the year,” said Mr Clarke.

“We do understand the pressures on availability of labour that the sector is under, and we believe that this issue has arisen at their packing plant,” he continued. “However, across Scotland all the other large supermarkets and many hundreds of independent butchers have kept Scotch product on their shelves.”

During visits to several other supermarkets and butchers last weekend, Mr Clarke said he had been heartened by the displays of Scotch Beef, Lamb and Specially Selected Pork, yet was disappointed by what he found in Tesco.

“There is an old marketing adage, ‘identify what your customers want and provide them with it profitably’. Therefore, to see the number of Irish meat lines that were piled into a reduced section on the end of a fixture with other products coming up to their sell-by-date, is just wrong and makes no commercial sense. This is testimony that Scottish consumers have an allegiance to Scottish products.”

Dumfries-based beef farmer, Tom Neill, told The SF that no Scotch beef or lamb was available in his local Tesco in Lockerbie, and after speaking to customer service about other stores in the country, he was told that it was similar picture in Glasgow, and other areas, with no indication of when they would be back on shelves.

“There is Irish beef and New Zealand lamb on sale in my local Tesco, alongside British beef, but nothing labelled as Scottish,” reported Mr Neill. “All meats were muddled together with no distinction between packets – all had identical packaging, colouring and logos, the only difference was the small print detailing origin.

“What other country would stomach home produce not being stocked in their own stores, to be replaced by imported produce with a token gesture of British?” he asked, adding that it did not add up given moves to reduce food miles and buy local.

“Why not stock only Scottish beef as we have the lowest carbon footprint and it is right here on our doorstep? If Tesco is choosing to not buy Scottish and favour Irish beef, it could affect the price I get for my own beef, as one can only assume they are getting Irish beef at a much cheaper price.”

Tesco insisted that overall volumes of Scotch beef and lamb had not dropped and it has come to light that some of these products had been appearing in stores south of the Border.

The SF was told that a shelf watch conducted at four Tesco stores in the Midlands revealed Scottish beef and lamb were found alongside Irish beef – with no British-labelled produce in sight.

Neil Shand, of the National Beef Association, commented: “There is a bit of substance in Tesco’s argument in that it is experiencing logistics issues, with products clearly ending up in places they shouldn’t, but this doesn’t justify the volume of Irish beef on their shelves.

“It looks suspiciously like the surplus of Irish meat in the market – as a result of Asda stepping up its commitment to British – has found its way into Tesco stores at a time where Irish beef prices have been falling,” suggested Mr Shand.

“The majority of major retailers recognise the rising consumer connection to buying local and Tesco could see its market share impacted by their recent actions,” he warned. “It is time for Tesco to start supporting the people that support them!”

A spokesperson for Tesco told The SF that it had not increased the volumes of Irish beef or New Zealand lamb in its stores and would revert back to labelling Scotch beef and lamb in Scottish stores as soon as it was feasible again.